Posted: Tue Feb 08, 2005 1:50 pm Post subject: Improving Lead Horse Capabilities
My horse is generally very willing but we have been struggling a bit with water crossings.
I will admit that water crossings and trail riding in general is something that he hasn't done very much in the past.
He follows me through the water okay if:
a) I am on foot and lead him
b) another horse goes first
But because our second horse can be a bit nervous he has to be the lead horse now most of the time on the trail.
Last time he just refused until I got off and let him through the creek. Since my boots were already wet I crossed with him two more times on foot. On our way back he crossed under saddle twice with no further problems.
Will he remember that he will be fine next time? How forceful should I get if he refuses again?
Well, water can indeed be sticky for some horses. As with anything, you need to gradually expose the horse to more and bigger "questions," gradually pushing the comfort zone without pushing too hard.
It can help to start off by leading him through some easy water. Typically once he gets comfortable with that particular water hazard, he'll be willing to go back through it again. That doesn't necessarily indicate that he'll go through other water.
If you show him lots of different water hazards, and can convince him each time that the water is okay (you may need to lead him, again), then he will become more comfortable with all kinds of water.
You can do this by riding in different areas with different water crossings. You can also make little streams/lakes in your pasture that he has to cross to get in or out, or occasionally flood the area around your water tubs to make a puddle (only recommended if you have good drainage and it won't harm your footing long-term). Any time it rains, ride out and actively seek rain puddles, and ride through the puddles.
Water is frightening to horses because they cannot see how far down it goes. They have to learn to feel their way, and to get comfortable with the footing below the surface. The more, different, water hazards he can cross, the more secure he will feel in crossing water, even water he's never seen before.
I checked your profile...a "DJ's Mom" in Texas? Very suspicious Thought it was you!
Since you know a bit about Kat and me, I'll go ahead and share a bit more. The first time I asked Kat to cross water, it was a slow moving, hoof-deep, 6' wide (or so) creek. Instead of going through it, when I dismounted & led her across, she went OVER it. A little un-nerving! She waited on the far side while I crossed, then as I approached the far bank, launched herself. Funny in restrospect...
The next trip out to the same trail, she was hesitant about the creek, but did eventually go in (without me having to lead her).
The next trip, she had no questions at all.
She still had questions about other water. So I just started taking her through ANY puddle I saw, even if I had to detour quite a bit to get to it. Eventually she became quite comfortable with it. She only paused briefly when she saw a water hazard while galloping cross country (and not at the hazard, but a good ways out--then went right through it).
This past weekend, we crossed at least three little streams on our ride out. She played in them. No hesitation going in, but she stopped and splashed around in the middle. In one, she made a sharp turn and started going upstream in the middle of the creek!
With *any*thing, gradual, calm desensitization will help you overcome the "strange" factor. Start off with what you have, and move towards more and more exposure, until none of it phases him at all.